What else is there to say about 2017 other than that it happened? The end of this bin-fire of a year could not have come any faster, but through the (sometimes) good and the (mostly) bad, music was a constant that kept us sane in a world increasingly swamped in chaos.
Understandably, the year’s sound felt slower and maybe a bit sadder compared to recent years, but other artists picked up the pace and gave us the sweat therapy we so desperately needed. From Jlin’s Black Origami to a White Isle favorite, and Aussie pop to UK rave nostalgia, here are 14 tracks that helped us get by, a few minutes at a time.
In the midst of all this uncertainty, Four Tet’s ninth studio album New Energy delivered on its name. Described by Kieran Hebden as being inspired by science, climate change, and nature, the album presents a meditative mixture of new age serenity and percussion-heavy club music that glistens with the delicate dewiness of a lush forest after a long frost, inspiring a spring-like sense of renewal and spiritual healing.
Dancefloors are also a place of refuge, and through one of New Energy’s top tracks, ‘SW9 9SL’, Hebden pays homage to one he’s frequented both on- and off-stage, London’s Brixton Academy. (The track title, DIY Mag points out, is a reference to the venue’s postcode.) ‘SW9 9SL’ drifts into being rather than bumping from the start, but clubbers eventually get their serotonin fix via a swirling series of chimes and arpeggios that skydive into a trench of murky bass.
Dance to it, do yoga to it—either way, you’ll come out the other side feeling like a new person.
Back in June, Belfast-hailing duo Bicep released their much-awaited debut album, and one of its tracks, ‘Glue’, was apparently such a standout that it merited its own EP. The bloggers turned world-traveling artists have always had an ear for tunes that make the club shake, but ‘Glue’ shows off their calmer side.
The breakbeat-focused track is steeped in melancholia; its drawn-out melodies could mimic heaving sighs as they cradle wailing vocals that sound like they’re stuck in decades past. Fitting, then, that its accompanying music video is a montage of now-barren vistas that were once home to infamous raves. Somewhere in the world, clubbers are being left swaying to ‘Glue’ as the night ends and they’re sent stumbling back into the blinding sunshine.
If you’ve turned on your television anytime in the last few weeks, chances are a commercial for the Google Chromebook has caught your attention — but not for what you saw on the screen as much as what you heard. In this case, it’s US veteran producer Karizma’s gospel house anthem, ‘Work It Out’.
The track, released early this year on Marce Vogel’s Lumberjacks in Hell label, is an instant mood-lifter with its jovial clapping, a walloping bassline, and a gospel choir whose rousing chants are one “Hallelujah!” away from summoning the Lord himself into your living room.
“Can I count on you?” singer Chloe Kaul, of Melbourne duo Kllo, implores on the hook of their single ‘Virtue’. As her angelic vocals hover in the air, the song’s sprightly 2-step undertow makes for a surprisingly danceable tune about loss. “‘Virtue’ is about not knowing what you’ve got until it’s gone,” Kaul told Nylon, “whether that be a part of yourself or somebody else. It’s the present moment of finally coming to that realisation.”
Life for the duo (Kaul and her cousin, Simon Lam) certainly has changed in a big way as of late. Since releasing their Well Worn EP last year, Kllo have cultivated a fanbase well beyond the borders of their hometown with their bittersweet sound, a blend of electronic music, pop, and R&B that oscillates between melancholia and euphoria, ballad and dance battle.
Earlier this year, they embarked on their biggest tour yet across Europe and North America in support of their debut album, Backwater, of which ‘Virtue’ was the lead single. Big things are in store for these two — count on that.
After churning out fever-dream-induced rave belters and downtempo floaters on his 2016 album Levitate, Lone found middle ground in Ambivert Tools, a series of EPs in which he explores the hazy strain of house that has revived his Magicwire imprint in recent years.
“Ambivert,” according to the dictionary, refers to “a person having characteristics of both extrovert and introvert,” which seems fitting for Ambivert Tools Volume One track ‘Crush Mood’: the combination of bubbling vocal sample arrangements and quieter, dreamy breakdowns shows off the hyperactive/ambient duality of Lone’s entire last album within a single six-minute span.
The star of it all, though, is a devastating “free your mind” vocal that no doubt has made a punter or two lose it on the dancefloor at peak-time.
Yaeji has Mother Russia in her cup and a hit on her hands with ‘Raingurl’. The Brooklyn-based producer’s track, off her latest release EP2, might be one of the catchiest songs of the year.
Yaeji slips seamlessly between English and Korean in her lyrics—“Initially, I chose Korean because I didn’t want people to understand what I was singing about, and then I discovered that I actually really like how Korean sounds,” she recently told Pitchfork—with a sing-rapping cadence that’s universal in its swagger.
With its deep bassline, and swirling house synths, ‘Raingurl’ sits comfortably between underground club anthem and pre-game bop.
Has there been a song rinsed more this summer on the White Isle than ‘Cola’?
The collaboration between UK artists CamelPhat and Elderbrook seems a natural fit for the party capital’s dancefloors: clubbers spilling in at increasingly messy hours of the night and being instantly drawn to the track’s sprawling solemnity and hypnotic, looping vocals before a barrage of synth stabs hits like a defibrillator to the chest.
Slightly unsettling lyrics aside, Cola has achieved a number of milestones, including debuting on BBC Radio 1 as Danny Howard’s Hottest Record in the World, winning Track of the Season at this year’s DJ Awards, and inclusion on the latest edition of Now That’s What I Call Music!
The biggest indicator of its success? It’s up for Best Dance Recording at the 2018 Grammy Awards.
Henry Steinway is no stranger to reinvention: before he was delivering stadium-sized EDM trap and bass music to the masses as RL Grime, he was making raucous electro house under the Clockwork moniker.
Back in May, he released a new single, ‘Reims‘, one of only a few solo originals track since releasing his 2014 debut album, Void (though in the meantime he shared a huge collaboration with What So Not and Skrillex, as well as a remix of The Weeknd). Deep and celestial, ‘Reims’ is a significant evolution of Steinway’s 808-smacked sound. There’s plenty more where that came from, too: as he revealed with its release, a new album is on the way.
You could say Indiana producer Jlin somewhat fell into her most recent album, Black Origami, and it paid off big time: the LP is currently the highest-rated electronic album in 2017, according to music review aggregator Album of the Year. A deviation from the footwork sound on which Jlin came up, ‘Black Origami’, like the Japanese art of paper folding, represents a blank canvas ready to be bent and manipulated into shapes (or in this case, sounds) unforeseen.
As Jlin tells it, the album’s titular track was what laid the first crease in the project. Then already “over” her similarly acclaimed 2015 debut, Dark Energy, she strove to create something different. ‘Black Origami’ possesses a dark brilliance; it’s an intricate, percussion-driven frenzy that gleams with menace. “I thought I might be onto something and dug deeper,” she told Passion of the Weiss. We’re glad she did.
For the last few years, Mall Grab has been leading the pack of young up-and-comers making emotional lo-fi house that gets clubbers caught up in their feelings. With releases for 1080p, Shall Not Fade, and his own Steel City Dance Discs imprint already under his belt, the young Aussie kicked off 2017 by returning to DJ Haus’s Hot Haus Recs with the Pool Party Music EP.
While the EP’s horn-loving title track hit many mid-year best-of lists, its more laidback successor ‘B.F.O.D.A.A.S’. is equally deserving of some love. Hefty enough for club play, it’s just as easily primed for a backyard pool party or for cruising the highway with its breezy synths straight out of ‘90s West Coast hip-hop. It makes sense, then, that ‘B.F.O.D.A.A.S.’ samples Los Angeles rapper CJ Mac’s ’95 single, ‘Come and Take a Ride‘—the title likely refers to the lyric used: “Bag full of dank and a strap…”
Queue this one up next chance you get to beat the heat this summer.
Is it possible for a song to be made solely out of good vibes? German produce DJ Koze never fails to put smiles on faces with his whimsical, ever-meandering music, and his Mbira mix of Michael Mayer and Joe Goddard’s ‘For You’ is no exception.
One of three remixes he made from the original, its springy mbira melodies seem fueled by the happiness one feels when holding baby animals or finally IDing that one track that’s been stuck in your head for the last six months. Dare you not to daydream while giving this a listen.
In 2001, the iconic pop-R&B group Destiny’s Child released ‘Independent Women Pt. I‘, the lead single for female-fronted action film Charlie’s Angels. Listing all the possessions they bought on their own—from clothes to a house—the song felt like a war cry for women who don’t need a man to thrive.
Sixteen years later, Jersey club producer Uniiqu3 has delivered her own ode to single ladies with ‘The Anthem’. Spitting rapid-fire refrains like “Throw your hands up” and “Girl, I didn’t know you could get down like that,” Uniiqu3 takes direct lyrical inspiration from ‘Independent Women’, giving it a 2017 club-ready update.
“I wanted to make a bossy song that girls could mosh and rage to,” UNIIQUE wrote of the track on Facebook. She also told FADER, “This song is all about being a boss from the club to the workplace and not needing a man for anything—I wanted to hear more of that in dance music so I made ‘The Anthem’.”
How could Kendrick Lamar’s ‘HUMBLE.’, an ego-annihilating track sure to top many year-end lists, be made even more ice cold? By putting one of contemporary dance music’s biggest crossover successes, Skrillex, on remix duties.
The OWSLA boss has been relatively quiet on the dance front this year. In the meantime, he’s continued to strengthen his pop presence, working with Fifth Harmony, Justin Bieber collaborator Poo Bear, and Ty Dolla $ign; he even briefly revisited his pre-EDM roots by reuniting with his screamo band From First To Last. However, this Humble remix takes us back to the maximal-erring sound that made Skrillex a household name.
Yet amid the discordant sounds and thunderous drop, Lamar’s cutting lyrics stay almost entirely unaltered. Guess real recognise real.
Of anyone to remix The xx, no one is more qualified than group member Jamie xx himself. While he’s become a popular solo DJ and producer in his own right, his xx re-interpretations are a reminder of his roots.
The band released their latest album, I See You—their first as a group in five years—in January; eight months later, after lead single ‘On Hold’ had spent enough time getting settled in listeners’ memories, Jamie shared a remix that flips the original on its head. Aimed toward crowded clubs, his ‘On Hold’ version is a palatable slice of head-bopping house.
Rave-y in all the right places, its haunting, chopped vocal refrains are the only reminder that you’re dancing to a song about a broken relationship.
Krystal Rodriguez is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. She is on Twitter.